A Fascinating Look at Valentine's Day History

Wine glasses inside a heart of tealight candles

Valentine's Day history begins in 269 A.D. or in 1847, depending on your point of view. In 269 A.D., a Roman, named Valentine, died a martyr on February 14th for refusing to repudiate Christianity. However, recent Valentine's greetings started with Esther Howland in 1847. Learn more about the history of Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday and part of history.

Valentine's Day History and Modern Celebration

In 1847, Esther Howland enjoyed the Valentine greeting she received so much that she sent out her own Valentine cards. Seeing a potential idea, she offered to make Valentine's cards for others. She received so many orders that she needed a few friends to help her put them all together. Over time, February 14th became the day that lovers exchanged messages, tokens of affection, and romantic gestures.

Valentine's Day balls became popular amongst the wealthy while the middle class enjoyed church socials and mixers. Social gatherings on Valentine's Day allowed young people to interact, flirt and potentially develop the foundation for a future relationship. These socials and mixers let couples indulge in a romantic evening together amongst their community.

Juno, Roman Goddess of Women and Marriage

Juno, the goddess of women and marriage, is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Hera. February 14th was marked as a day to honor the goddess and the next day marked the beginning of the Feast of Lupercalia. Lupercalia celebrated new life, particularly the lives of Romulus and Remus, saved from death by a she-wolf who suckled them.

In Roman times, young boys and girls maintained strict separation. However, during the Feast of Lupercalia, the girls would put their names on slips of paper and place them in jars. The boys would draw a girl's name from one of the jars and for the duration of the feasting time, the young couple could spend time together in public. It was common for these Lupercalia pairings to develop into lasting relationships leading to marriage.

As the Feast of Lupercalia faded out over time, Valentine's Day took up the slack, by celebrating life, romance and a time for young boys and girls to once again, pair up.

The Priest Valentine

Valentine, a Christian priest, reportedly enjoyed marrying young couples. Roman Emperor Claudius I, outlawed Christian religious ceremonies, but Valentine continued to marry young Christian couples in defiance of the law. The soldiers of the Emperor arrested Valentine and jailed the priest for his actions. Many couples came to visit him, threw him flowers and notes. Many of his followers wanted him to know that they too, believed in love. The daughter of his jailer paid him many visits and the two developed a friendship. On the day of his execution, he left her a note.

This story is the basis for St. Valentine's canonization and the traditional celebration held for centuries. Although the holiday has become commercialized in modern parts of the Western world, the story of St. Valentine is deeply romantic.

Valentine's Day Today

The modern Valentine's Day is celebrated by school children exchanging sweetheart candies and character-based Valentines. Husbands and wives shower each other with romantic gifts including flowers, chocolates, and cards. Young lovers plan romantic evenings with special presents for each other. Social events take place in clubs, churches and more where young men and women hope to catch the eye of another. While Ms. Rowland may have commercialized the holiday with her homemade Valentines and greeting card companies followed her lead, Valentine's Day history details a romantic tradition that dates back nearly two millennia.

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A Fascinating Look at Valentine's Day History